"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Summer Reading:Providing Books Is Not Enough

Schools in both the United States and the Philippines are not in session all year round. Summer breaks often bring a pause to children's academic efforts. The National Summer Learning Association writes in one of its research briefs"Summer’s always been a great time to kick back with a book. But a strong body of research shows that, without practice, students lose reading skills over the summer months and children from low-income families lose the most. With the prevalence of television, computers and other electronic distractions, how can parents, educators and librarians encourage kids to immerse their minds and imaginations in books over the summer months?"

It is not sufficient however just to provide books that children could read over the summer. According to James Kim, a professor of education at Harvard University:
"...In fact, in one study, when we gave books to kids but did nothing else, they did no better than the kids who did nothing over the summer. There was no difference...
...Our research indicates that it’s about more than access, especially with younger kids who are still learning to read. Reading is most effective when parents or family members can provide reading guidance and make sure that kids understand what they’re reading. Reading can be both a solitary activity and a social activity that fosters learning and recreation."
At Mason Crest Elementary School in Virginia, there is a summer reading program. My children and I participated in one session and the results of Kim's research described above is seen in action in this library program.

Of course, there is access to books, in fact a lot of books. My son and daughter both spent quite some time scanning through books they could borrow from the library:

Both found books they wanted to read:

Indeed, supporting summer reading goes beyond providing books. During the session, a reading resource teacher, Jacquie Heller, was also there. She reminded the children of three important things by which one can get really immersed in reading:

Expression, Connection, Visualize (making reading more effective)
Heller used the book, "Dragons Love Tacos" to illustrate what expression, connection and visualize mean while reading.

Dragons Love Tacos
Young children very much need a scaffold. By reading a book with the proper expression, moods and tones are set appropriately. Making connections is equally important as a child begins to see the book through his or her experiences. Visualizing dramatizes what the child reads and when a child has a picture, the child remembers what he or she reads a lot easier. What is likewise clear is that these three things facilitate a love for reading. It is that love that makes comprehension a bit easier, and young children still need adults to show the way.

Giving a book is a good start, but it should not end there. We still need a parent or teacher to guide.

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Ethics Demands Not Only Where DAP Funds Went But, As Important, Where Did These Come From?

The Philippines DepEd was quick to deny allegations that some of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) funds came from savings realized by denying teachers' bonuses.

It is difficult to decipher who is telling the truth when a member of the Senate, presumably that branch of the government that votes and approves the General Appropriations Act (GAA), said not long ago:
More than a year ago, a member of the Philippines Senate, Francis Escudero, described how various government agencies were able to produce "savings": 
"He cited as example the budget that Congress had approved in the past for 15,000 new teachers every year but the Department of Education would only hire about 7,000 new teachers. 
The budget for the remaining 8,000 positions, he said, was then considered savings and re-aligned for bonuses of the department’s employees. (Philippine Daily Inquirer, 17 January 2013)
In addition, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) maintains its version of how DepEd has realigned its budget. In the Manila Standard Today, ACT National Chairman says:

Valbuena said the 528,000 teachers and 72,000 non-teaching personnel from 42,000 elementary and high schools used to get P10,000 each annually in Performance Enhancement Incentive. 
However, the amount was cut in half because the Palace impounded P3 billion from the Department of Education’s allocation in 2012 and another P3 billion in 2013, he said.
“For two years now under the Aquino administration, we have been deprived of our rightful P10,000 performance bonus,” he said. 
The Palace, he said, justified the realignment for DAP and replaced the PEI with Productivity Incentive Bonus or merit system where the teachers had to earn two “outstanding” evaluations to obtain a “two-step increment.” 
“Every outstanding performance, which is very difficult to achieve under horrible teaching conditions such as depressed salaries, lack of classrooms and school supplies, overloading of work, will merit a step-increment equivalent to only P200,” Valbuena said. 
“So our P10,000 benefit was replaced with P200. Does the President believe this is fair and just?” Valbuena said.
Valbuena's arithmetic is correct. Denying about 600,000 personnel of 5000 pesos each amounts to 3 billion pesos. Replacing 10,000 pesos with 200 pesos is, however, incorrect. An across the board incentive of 5000 pesos has remained.

The lack of transparency contributes significantly to the confusion. However, there are truths that do not require a close examination of numbers. Shortages in resources (classrooms and learning materials) are widely known for so many years now. The fact that teachers' salaries have been stagnant for years is also undeniable. The Philippine Congress has the responsibility to approve the budget of the government. The Executive has the responsibility of submitting to Congress what it needs. The needs are obvious yet the budget seems to be wrong every year that it provides so much savings that the Executive can freely transfer and spend these funds for something else. If the public schools in the Philippines are so transparently in need of aid, it is amazing that both branches of the government seem incapable of drawing the budget basic education needs. Unfortunately, this does not apply only to education. Health care and infrastructure are likewise severely neglected. Yet, there are savings that allow the Executive to hand pick projects that it deems necessary to stimulate the economy, the justification for DAP. There are no savings when there are clearly unmet needs, only irresponsible budgeting.

France Castro, Secretary General of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Bonuses, Savings and the Disbursement Acceleration Program

More than a year ago, a member of the Philippines Senate, Francis Escudero, described how various government agencies were able to produce "savings":
"He cited as example the budget that Congress had approved in the past for 15,000 new teachers every year but the Department of Education would only hire about 7,000 new teachers. 
The budget for the remaining 8,000 positions, he said, was then considered savings and re-aligned for bonuses of the department’s employees. (Philippine Daily Inquirer, 17 January 2013)
These are "savings". And if the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), which has been recently ruled as unconstitutional by the Philippines Supreme Court, has been funded by "savings", this then explains in part where the money comes from. Critics of those who criticize DAP reiterate that "unconstitutional" does not necessarily mean "immoral", especially when this program has been operated in "good faith". The fact, however, of where some of the funding for DAP came from could raise serious ethical questions.  The Alliance of Concerned Teachers recently posted the following on Facebook:
Some Important Facts on DAP and its Impact in Education especially Teachers: 
In the public education for instance, funds for teachers’ benefits and allocation for substitute teachers were taken away as part of his DAP. This in turn resulted to the further decrease of the already meager benefits given to us. The P10, 000 yearly Performance Enhancement Incentive (PEI) that we used to receive were systematically reduced by half because of the illegal centralization of savings by mid-term. These “savings” constitute a large portion of funds for DAP.
Also, since the allocation for substitute teachers were also taken away, public schools can no longer hire substitute teachers whenever a teacher gets sick or is in maternity/paternity leave, putting his/her teaching load as an additional work for the teachers without additional pay. It is an established fact already that the public education needs more allocation from the government to address the meager salary and benefits of the teaching and non-teaching personnel and to address the shortages in personnel, classrooms and facilities.”
If the above information is accurate, DAP actually abuses public school teachers. Given Senator Escudero's explanation of how agencies create "savings", the above is likely to be true. There is no "good faith" in DAP especially when the well being of Philippine basic education is concerned.
A photo posted on Twitter by the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) showing teachers protesting the government's new Results-based Performance Management System (RPMS) and Learners’ Information System (LIS), which adds to how teachers are presently assessed on which rewards and incentives would be based.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Innovation in Education

Change is inevitable. Yet there are universal constants. Not all change is good. There are changes that happen beyond our influence or control. And there are changes that we ourselves bring to realization. When we innovate, we look for improvement. This type of change for the most part involves a process, but it cannot be divorced from the outcome. In fact, this type of willful change is only good if it is for the better. In a new report from the OECD, Measuring Innovation in Education: A New Perspective, Educational Research and Innovation, countries have been ranked in terms of changes in schools' practices and policies. Vincent-Lancrin, lead author of the study, has been quoted as saying, "Innovation is a means to an end, we need to think of it not as an indicator of performance itself, but something that will translate into better educational outcomes." Whether an innovation leads to an increase in quality in education deserves to be asked. Assuming innovation is a good in itself is dangerous. Such thinking reduces education to something similar to business where innovation is a must to survive. In education, not all changes are good and not all changes are justified.

The full report can be accessed here.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Philippines DepEd's Attempt to Help Private School Education

Inside the 309 billion peso 2014 budget for the Department of Education (DepEd) in the Philippines is a 7.45 billion item intended to help families who are sending their children to private schools. In the latest government report, more than 800000 pupils have been assisted by the program formally called Government Assistance for Students and Teachers in Private Education (GASTPE). This subsidy amounts to about 9000 pesos spent by the government per pupil. Back in 2009, using World Bank data, Seth Mydans of the NY Times estimated that the Philippine government spends about 6600 pesos per pupil enrolled in its public schools. There is the question, of course, of why the government needs to run two programs. There are 21 million students currently enrolled in the public schools, a system marked with acute shortages in resources: classrooms, learning materials, and teachers, yet the government still reaches out and helps families who have their children studying in private schools. The idea of having a public school system is to provide education for all yet there are programs that do not apply to all.

The country of Chile provides plenty of evidence on how these programs actually work. Unfortunately, the evidence merely points to even greater inequality. Here is a recent peer-reviewed article from the Education Policy Analysis Archives:

Why a government would provide funds for families to send their children to private schools is really a question that needs to be addressed by education policy makers. In Chile, there was the expectation that competition between private and public schools may lead to increasing quality in all schools. Unfortunately, this does not really happen in education. Schools are not factories. Schools, unlike factories, could and should not really choose their starting material. If competition becomes the underlying principle, quality is in fact compromised. It is easy to make a school look good by simply being selective in its enrollment. Another point is that the government must really focus on the system that it has especially when it is not even able to address all the needs of its own system.

One last point specific for the Philippine program is the fact that the subsidy does not really cover all of the tuition fees. It covers only a fraction. It is clear therefore that the program benefits only those families who can afford to pay at least partly private school tuition. It is not meant for the poor, but for the middle class and the wealthy. Thus, right at the very beginning, it is a program that is really meant for higher-income families.

Pasi Sahlberg of Finland talked a couple of months ago at the First Parish Church in Massachusetts. During his presentation, Sahlberg said:
There are three unique aspects of Finnish system. One: We have a school system that is based on 9 years of compulsory and comprehensive schooling that is the same for all children. There is no other system in the world where all kids have the same school experience in their own neighborhood. We don’t have charters, independent schools, etc. We have a few specialty schools such as Waldorf, etc., but very few. Most schools in Finland are part of the public school system. It was created about 40 years ago. All private schools were abolished. We insisted that every school must be a good school.
Education for all means only one thing. It is not education only for some, it is for all. When will we ever learn?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Education and the Internet

This research comes from a network of young people based at the University of Warwick. The social and educational network called IGGY recently looked at the role of the internet in basic education. The work is quite a small survey. It certainly does not represent the entire globe although it covers several countries: US, UK, Australia, South Africa, France, Netherlands, Singapore, and Pakistan. Clearly, the survey does not even capture the most populous countries. Nonetheless, the findings may be worthwhile to look at. So, here are some of the results. These figures are copied from the final report without permission.

The first one relates to how frequent the internet is being used in homework.

One might ask the same question in the Philippines. My guess is that the above figure is far from what is going on in the Philippines. What may be closer to the Philippines is the scenario from Pakistan (which is quite an outlier when it comes to the above results). For Pakistann the IGGY researchers write:


  • A number of children are not going to school at all
  • Quality of education and access to the internet still seems impossible for many children living in Pakistan
  • The internet is being used for education only at private and elite schools.

    • None of the government schools have the facility of internet, whilst only the private and elite schools provide internet facilities
    • The schools which do provide the internet provide it mostly to the administration staff who use it for their own communication and research purposes

The next figure is quite telling. The survey suggests that students with learning difficulties are more likely to benefit from the internet:

The report has the following summary and recommendations:

• The internet in Education facilitates certain areas of skill development (e.g., independent learning more than others (e.g., communication).
• The internet has a positive influence on pupils with learning difficulties and thus online learning platforms should be used more frequently with these pupils to aid development.
• The skills acquired from gamification and coding are beneficial for school pupils and should be more widely incorporated into the curriculum.
• Online learning platforms should be widely and freely available to all pupils across the globe.
• The incorporation of flipped classrooms and MOOCs will shift the way in pupils study allowing for more flexibility and personalisation in how they work.
• The internet should be introduced as a learning tool much earlier in schools then it is currently, e.g., 11 years and below.
• Online safety should be taught more rigorously and consistently across the curriculum.
• Teachers need to be at the forefront of integrating internet into education, i.e., ‘digital ambassadors’ – to achieve this, teachers need to receive on-going training and support from the government and educational organisations.
• Advance pupil development through teacher training by 2020
• By 2020 for the internet to be more widely available to school pupils aged 11
• Increase global access to online learning environments
• Pupils with learning difficulties to benefit from technological advancements
• Emphasise online safety, cultivate digital citizenship and responsibility
• By 2020 all schools should be using blended learning programmes in their curriculum
This report comes from a junior commission (These are high school students) that has ten members: 2 are from UK, 2 are from Pakistan, and from each of the following countries: South Africa, Singapore, Netherlands, Canada, France, and Australia. This group of young researchers is very much aware of the limitations of their study. In the report, he commission writes:

Firstly, the participants (i.e., teachers and pupils) who completed the questionnaires were not representative of the world's entire population and only reflect a small sample size. In total, we contacted participants in 14 different countries receiving over 200 responses. Thus generalising the findings for application to other countries not included in the study would be difficult. This said, countries identified to take part in the study were selected to be diverse, representing different social and cultural norms, to help overcome this issue. Therefore, overall considering the timescale (i.e., two-week data collection) and resources available, the research is far-reaching in terms of participant recruitment. A related issue is that many of the participants were our friends, classmates, or teachers and so were therefore more likely to share similar viewpoints. Again this latter point is a difficult criticism to overcome considering the availability of participants was always going to be dependent on existing contacts. 
Moreover, an internet connection was necessary to complete the questionnaire. This means demographically deprived areas may not have taken part in the study due to a lack of resources. The sample of participants is not random; they were all interested in filling out a questionnaire on the subject of Education and the Internet which may mean that responses were more ‘pro-technology’ then a baseline group would be. However, this is an issue for any piece of research; people who take part are more likely to be interested in the topic under investigation and this may affect the viewpoints identified. 
In conclusion, these limitations should not in any way deflect from our project findings and recommendations. Instead, by providing transparent information about how the research process was completed, the context in which the research should be understood is more appropriately communicated.
These limitations do point out to which types of school systems and students their findings really apply. The fact that this survey was done over the internet means only those who had access to the internet were able to participate. Thus, even with internet access and presumably, schools that are better equipped, the impact of the internet is not really that overwhelming.

Education and the internet share quite a bit in common. Both potentially can improve our living. Both have a promise of benefiting mankind. Sadly, this hope may just be an illusion. Both education and the internet may be falling short. Because right now, both are just magnifying and crystallizing the difference between the rich and the poor.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

(ITLL B OK) Text Messaging Effects on Literacy and Grammar

LOL, OMG, BRB, ppl instead of people, u in place of you, and 2 for to. These are just examples of what one might see in text messages as well as posts on social media and emails. Typing less characters to express a message of course reduces the burden of punching those keys, especially the very small ones on those smart phones. It is quick. And it is evolving with its own set of rules. There are concerns that these exercises can impair one's literacy and grammar skills. In fact, a press release two years ago from Penn State highlighted a study by Cingel and Sundar that claims a negative relationship between texting and grammar skills:

Unfortunately, this study was not well designed. The above press release noted:
The researchers, who report their findings in the current issue of New Media & Society, then passed out a survey that asked students to detail their texting habits, such as how many texts they send and receive, as well as their opinion on the importance of texting. The researchers also asked participants to note the number of adaptations in their last three sent and received text messages. Of the 542 surveys distributed, students completed and returned 228, or 42.1 percent.
The data collected on how students were using texting relied solely on the students' own reporting. There was likewise no baseline testing. Good studies require reliable data collection. There is a recent study published in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology that shows otherwise: Text messaging styles do not impair one's literacy and grammar skills.

In this study, text messages of students are recorded and saved over a time period. These text messages are then analyzed and categorized according to the following types of grammatical violations:

This recent study was over a twelve month period. A battery of standardized tests were administered at the beginning and at the end of the study. Participants are from three levels of education: primary, secondary and college. The results show that at all levels, there is no correlation between a student's performance on the grammar and literacy tests and text messaging. In fact, for secondary pupils, greater use of word reduction is correlated with better performance in spelling. Those who type messages with words like "tryna", "hafta", "wanna" and "gonna", can in fact spell better than those who do not.

This instance illustrates why it is very important to have a well designed experiment. Our opinions, biases and limited observations can not be used as valid evidence to draw general conclusions. Text messaging does not impair a student's literacy and grammar. In fact, text messaging provides a route for creativity....

Above copied from Personalized License Plate (photos.al.com)
It will be okay.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Yet Another List of Top Universities in the World

This one comes from the Center for World University Rankings, based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Harvard, Stanford and MIT, from the US, capture the top three spots:

The ranking methodology is claimed to be independent of surveys and university data submissions. It relies solely on the following data:

  1. Publications (5%) - Number of publications in top-tier journals.
  2. Influence (5%) - Number of publications in journals that are considered to be most influential (Nature, Science, PNAS are examples).
  3. Citations (5%) - Number of highly cited papers.
  4. h-index (5%) - Number of papers that are at least cited the same number of times.
  5. Patents (5%) - Number of international patent filed.
  6. Awards won by faculty (25%) - The list of awards counted is as follows: Nobel Prize and the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, Abel Prize, Balzan Prize, Charles Stark Draper Prize, Crafoord Prize, Dan David Prize, Fields Medal, Fundamental Physics Prize, Holberg International Memorial Prize, Japan Prize, Kavli Prize, Kluge Prize, Kyoto Prize, Millennium Technology Prize, Praemium Imperiale, Pritzker Prize, Shaw Prize, Schock Prize, Templeton Prize, Turing Award, Wolf Prize, and World Food Prize.
  7. Awards won by students/alumni (25%) - Same awards as above are considered.
  8. Alumni employment (25%) - Number of alumni who are CEOs at the world's top 2000 public companies.
With this methodology, the University of Tokyo in Japan captures #13, the highest spot for Asia. In the list of the top 1000 universities, about 100 are from China, while Japan has 74. South Korea has 34, Taiwan has 26, India has 15, Iran has 8, Singapore has 2. Both Thailand and Malaysia have 3. Hong Kong has 6. There are no universities in the Philippines that made the list. The following are the countries that have universities on the list:

The complete list is available from this link

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Why We Should Listen to Teachers

It is a lesson I learned early on from my parents. I need to listen when something important is being said. I need to listen to something that makes sense. Listening is of course one way we truly benefit from those who are much more informed than we are. Here is what Arkansas 2007 Teacher of the Year, Justin Minkel, recently wrote on his blog, "President Obama has often been described as an eloquent speaker. I learned this week that he is an eloquent listener, too."
President Obama's Family Picture (Wikipedia)
I guess having a spouse and two daughters can make any father a good listener.

Kidding aside, Minkel was in fact relating a meeting he had with the president together with the Education secretary and three other teachers. The conversation started with Obama asking the following questions:
  • Why had we stayed in our schools? 
  • What could he and the Secretary do to support teachers in high-need schools? 
  • What policies could ensure that students who need the strongest teachers receive them?
The four teachers who have been asked to address these questions have been teaching in high=poverty schools for over a decade. And the responses are as follows:
  • "There’s nothing wrong with the kids." These teachers find students with challenges as motivation. 
  • "Responsibility and delight could coexist", but only if such responsibility comes with freedom, creativity and autonomy.
  • "It’s not about good and bad teachers. It’s about good and bad teaching." Teachers become effective when they collaborate and work together. It is purposeful professional development that is necessary: reflection, collaboration and mentoring.
  • "If we want students to innovate, collaborate, and solve real-world problems, we need to make it possible for teachers to do those same things." This sounds similar to the second response above, perhaps, indicating why autonomy really matters to teachers.
Minkel ends his article with the following sentence, "The last thing the president said to us was, “You all make me feel hopeful.” President Obama, you left us hopeful, too." Of course, Minkel is quite quick to state that one meeting with the President will not solve all the challenges public school education in the US faces. But as Minkel says, "...it’s a damn good place to start."

Teachers in the Philippines are no different. They are equally caring and committed to their pupils. I went through public school and majority of my teachers treated me as if I was their own child. Sadly, the Philippines relates an opposite story. The country is now ruled by a president who in his last message to the public seems to be making a claim of infallibility.
President Aquino has been quoted recently asking people to wear a yellow ribbon to show support for his leadership. This is amid a coming typhoon threatening to hit parts of Luzon (Above photo copied from Allvoices.com).
The Supreme Court in the Philippines ruled unanimously (13-0) that Philippine president Aquino's Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) is unconstitutional. Conrado de Quiros wrote recently on the Inquirer:
...There are in fact two issues here, which government either cannot see or refuse to see. The first is the unconstitutionality of the DAP, the second is the criminality of the DAP. The second is debatable, the first is not...

...The unconstitutionality of things is not something we may treat lightly or dismiss as a minor thing, a “lapse in judgment,” or in this case as the unfortunate product of “good faith.” Giving the president the power to juggle funds is a wrong, it is an iniquity, it is a crime. You may not turn the country from a democracy into a “fiscal dictatorship” to stimulate the economy and benefit the people.

Lest we forget, Marcos himself justified declaring martial law to arrest anarchy and scuttle the oligarchy. Which he did at first, only to spark a more anarchic despotism and to mount an even more oligarchic crony system. Which shows why taking a patently wrong means for a presumably right end is wrong. An extreme example, doubtless, but it partakes of the same principle....

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Should a Teacher Decorate a Classroom?

We decorate the walls of our bedrooms and offices with posters, paintings and photos. Bare walls look like prison cells. Decorations on walls brighten a room, making it more inviting. The town of Paete, Laguna in the Philippines are known for its artistry. Thus, it would be surprising to find undecorated walls inside the homes in this town. Furthermore, the walls inside the classrooms in this town are likewise highly unlikely to be empty. In fact, when I visited Paete ten years ago, it would be impossible not to notice the paintings on the wall:

Even in high school, considerable talent is displayed on the walls.

Photo credit (Imelda Avino)